The only entrance we used was the south entrance where there are two different signs announcing the arrival into Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately neither of these signs are indicative of the park you are about to see. This is one of the most visited parks in the United States and I expected the entrance to reflect that. As we passed through the entrance for the first time I thought that these couldn’t possibly the official signs. Every other park we have visited so far had a unique but uniform look fitting of a national park and those parks accommodate fewer visitors each year.
Yosemite is such a large and incredible park, shouldn’t the entrance reflect that? I’m not expecting anything exceptionally extravagant but something that announces your arrival into such a magnificent park like the above photo shows for the Grand Canyon. There is not even a National Park Service logo on the first entrance sign to Yosemite above. The second sign does include this logo although it is quiet small. In the defense of Yosemite personnel, while looking through photos of other national parks I discovered similar disappointments with the entrance sign. The photo below is of the first entrance sign we encountered at Grand Canyon National Park. Even this one is more significant than either of the signs to Yosemite.
While exploring the visitor center in Yosemite Village we inquired about the entrance signs and were told at least one of the other entrances had a better sign. Unfortunately time constraints and the distance we would have to drive to get pictures of this sign prevented us from seeing it. Experiencing more of the natural features in Yosemite was a higher priority than taking a picture by a better sign. We were also told that there are plans to improve the South Entrance Sign in the future. To see what the other entrance signs looked liked I searched and found this photo below courtesy of ezeiza on flickr. A much nicer sign but still not as significant as might be expected at a park like Yosemite
A few feet beyond this marker you could see more large sequoias and a building which turned out to be restrooms. Just beyond the restrooms there, in the midst of a stand of redwoods was the museum. The sight causes you to forget the distance hiked as you become engrossed in the amazing view in front of you. This little cabin surrounded by giant trees making it appear as though it is a little play house in a forest. Almost as if you have entered a different world. I felt like an ant playing among a few trees. This was a feeling I have never experienced before and not sure how to understand it now. Thinking back, it makes me laugh and appreciate the feeling was so odd. Always exploring looking for new experiences. This was definitely a new experience. It’s not like being in an airplane with everything else near the ground looking so small. If allowed, you will feel inferior to the surroundings becoming afraid of nature and any animals that might come your way. Fearing they will also be giant in scale able to squash you like a bug with no defense.
After taking in these impressive moments we continued on to reach our destination of the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree. The trail continues up in elevation a little more ending near a paved road used by the tram and a large tree laying on the ground. This is a great opportunity to explore a giant sequoia up, down, inside, and out. You can get a sense of just how large some these trees get as their diameter is taller than you are when lying on the ground and the length just seems to keep going. The children spent several minutes playing around inside this tree and climbing on top of it (after I showed them how to get on top of the tree of course). This tree alone may not justify the hike but along with the trees near the museum it was definitely worth it.
Having to hike back we decided it was time to get off the fallen tree and begin our journey back to the vehicles. As we headed back we took in as much of the sequoias as possible and the feeling of being extremely tiny in this world. One more stop to re-fill water bottles at the museum and another bathroom break. We were off taking the same trail looking forward to sitting down on a cushioned seat again. Shortly after heading back down the trail we encountered another family wondering the same thing we did at that point – “are we close yet?” Laughing we explained how close they were and those were our exact thoughts at that same area on the trail. There was a sense of relief in their faces knowing their destination was near. Funny to be on both sides of wondering just how much further at that spot on the trail.
Our hike back took only half as long as it did to get up to the museum as this time it was all down hill. The joy of being back at the parking lot brought a stop to the gift shop for ice cream before letting the vehicles do the work for awhile as we headed to get the monopoly board signed before leaving Yosemite National Park for the last time. The children all slept well that night. Probably the adults too!
A few days after hiking in Mariposa Grove, we were intrigued by the lure of the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree further up the trail and decided this would be a nice hike to end our time in Yosemite. According to the sign posts along the trail this was a little over 4 miles to hike. Using My Tracks from Google, we hiked over 5 miles almost 6 miles (in an effort to appease our travel companions from HobbyJeep.com). Either way this is a long distance for a 4 year old (the youngest of our group of 9) to walk and she did this remarkably well.
There is an alternative to hiking to the Wawona Tunnel Tree, you can purchase a ride on the tram going from the parking lot to the tree and back taking just over an hour. There are a couple of reasons this did not fit into our objectives. Cost was the first deterrent. For a group of 2 or so the cost isn’t so bad but for a group of 9 the expense became larger than we were comfortable with. Next, the challenge of a hike this distance for the kids would be a good experience. Finally, the tram only stops twice for people to get on and off to explore these incredible trees. We didn’t find this out until after we got to the museum near the tunnel tree. By hiking we were able to walk among many sequoias and enjoy the trail. In addition, for the Monopoly Travelers, this was a good opportunity to experience a nice hike before heading to Isle Royale National Park where hiking would be our only method of travel.
Armed with a pack consisting of fruit and trail bars along with plenty of water and our cameras it was off to the trail. Don’t forget the med kit as scratches are very possible. The first mile was familiar as we reached a number of trees visited a few days prior such as the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Soon it was on to new trails exploring vistas we haven’t seen in search for more amazing vistas. After hiking about 2 hours we were starting to wonder how far away it was as we hadn’t passed anyone in a little while. It is at these times your mind plays tricks on you as you begin to wonder if you missed a turn somewhere or took a wrong turn earlier. Fighting these detrimental thoughts we pressed on and approached the top of the hill we had been climbing to entire time and found a trail marker. In addition to the mileage we were also climbing about 800 feet in altitude. The marker told us we were near the museum and still on the right track.
One of the wild orchids found in Yosemite – a spotted coralroot.
In this cluster of Applegate’s Paintbrush the flowers ranged from orange to yellow. One of the yellow flower heads can be seen in the background near the top.
Some Western Wallflowers near a fallen sequoia that has survived a forest fire.
A close up of an Iris.
Another Iris with a wild strawberry flowering in the left side of this photograph.
I’ve been unable to identify this flowering shrub at this point so any help would be appreciated.
This appears to be some sort of Locust Tree in bloom.
Maybe not a flowering plant but I loved the bright green moss covering the bark of these trees.
The moss close up.
This hillside was devoid of any other vegetation but these snowflowers insisted on flowering.
One of the snowflowers close-up. They were near the end of their blooming period.
White cinquefoils in full bloom.
Wild Lupines were blooming in many areas of Yosemite during June. Many of them were 3 – 4 feet tall along the roadside while others were maybe a foot in height like this one.
The Mountain Dogwoods were near the end of their flowering stage but there were still a few showing off for us.
It’s amazing where plants can live. Even under this boulder phlox can survive.
I’ve often heard about the sequoias of California (also known as the redwoods). Stories of trees so large that tunnels were made through them large enough for cars to fit. An occasional picture added to the stories showing these magnificent trees and their grand scale. When first starting to plan for a trip to Yosemite National Park I didn’t realize that there were a smattering of these redwoods in the park. Most of these are in Mariposa Grove. Knowing that Sequoia National Park is close by my expectations were that in order to see the redwoods you would have to go here.
Entering from the south into Yosemite late in the day on Father’s Day, Mariposa Grove was the closest sight to this entrance so it was decided to explore this area with the daylight we had left. Entering the parking area the sequoias are immediately visible and very impressive. I don’t know if a photo can capture the grandeur of these trees with much accuracy which is why seeing these for yourself is the only way to experience these massive redwoods. Looking around the parking lot quickly invites you to take a short hike to see more of these trees with the gem being the California Tunnel Tree less than a mile away.
After only a few minutes on the trail you come across one of the sequoias that has fallen and gives you an idea of just how large the base of the trees can be. Another observation at this point was how wide this dirt trail was and the amount of dust that had settled on nearby plants indicating just how many people have been using the trail in recent days. Continuing on this trail, another fallen sequoia laying across the trail adds the your education by explaining how many rings a trees has indicating it’s age. Also, this tree has been cut allowing passage between portions of the trunk.
This brought about the question of how do they cut through these trees? The trunk is 10 –12 feet in diameter. I have never seen a saw that was this large. I can only imagine that a trunk has to be cut with several passes of a larger chainsaw as I do with a tree that may only be 18 – 20 inches in diameter. It was at this point we learned many of the larger redwoods were 1,800 – 2,000 years old. Imagine, a tree that has lived this long and all of the different conditions it has survived to get to this point. Fires, ice and snow, rocks shifting (earthquakes), heat, cold. These trees could tell us more about climate change if they could speak.
Moving further up the trail there were more giant sequoias to capture your attention and just about the time you start asking “where is the tunnel tree? We’ve been on this trail for awhile now.” it appears through the forest. Now in sight the pace hurries a little to see this tree close up as you forget that you’re even walking out of amazement at seeing a tree so large a tunnel could be created out of it and it still lives. Getting closer to this tree of course you have to have your picture taken standing inside a living tree but in order to believe it is actually real you almost have to touch the tree. The bark is very spongy almost begging to be touched over and over again. You can see were the tree is trying to heal the enormous wound by all the bark that has started to grow on the inside of the tunnel in an attempt to cover exposed wood.
Satisfied that the hike was worth every step to see such magnificent trees it was time to return to the vehicles as dictated by the waning daylight. A hike at this time of day can be more peaceful as many of the other explorers had already returned to their vehicles and left for the day leaving the quietness of the forest for those still meandering the trails. It is this peacefulness that I desire allowing the natural surrounding to be seen and heard as you return to where you began. We returned to the vehicles as the sun was setting allowing us to find a spot on the road to stop and witness the last rays of the day. A day filled with memories as we began this Father’s Day in the hustle of Los Angeles eating a great breakfast and ended the day in the peace and quiet of Yosemite as the forest transitioned into night.
I sent out a tweet while in Yosemite as follows: “Just got the #yosemite national park location signed on the monopoly board by Dave Crockett.” There have been some inquiries about it so I though I would explain it in further detail.
After exploring Yosemite for a couple of days it was time to fulfill the ritual of getting our Monopoly National Parks edition board signed by a park ranger. It was off to the nearest visitor center which happened to be the Wawona Information Station in search of a ranger. After hurrying to get there before they closed we found out they had closed an hour earlier so we were out of luck because the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center would be closed before we got there as well.
The day before we were in Yosemite Valley at the visitor center learning about Yosemite and taking in a ranger program for our junior rangers. We could have had the board signed then but time was once again running short as we had dinner reservations at the Ahwahnee restaurant to get to so it was tabled until the next day. Unfortunately our adventure in Mariposa Grove took longer than expected eliminating our opportunity to make it back to the valley.
We were leaving the next day with a long drive to L.A. to catch our flight home so there really was no time to go back into the park meaning we needed to get the board signed before leaving on this night. What were the options? There are park rangers roaming the park the big question was where and how to find them? One of the park rangers from the valley the day before had mentioned we could have a ranger and the entrance sign. Recalling this we decided this was the best option.
Arriving at the entrance we stopped and waited for cars to go through before approaching one of the booths housing two rangers. I asked if one of them would sign it. They both looked at each other and finally one of them said “me?” I responded “if you’re willing!” and gave him the pen. While he was signing I noticed is badge which said Dave Crockett. Upon returning to the vehicle and explaining that we just had Davy Crockett sign our board they laughed and thought it was a great ending to the trip in Yosemite.
For those that would like a little further explanation here you go. First off, Davy Crockett was considered the “King of the Wild Frontier” so an avid outdoorsman and adventurer very similar to how many of the park rangers are viewed. Secondly, we had opportunities to have the board signed by other rangers but those opportunities fell through almost as if it was fate that Dave Crockett was meant to sign the board. We found it a little ironic!
Before leaving on this adventure I had heard about and seen pictures of Half Dome and several of the waterfalls. I also new that this was the third busiest national park in 2011 so there were likely to be a lot of people visiting during the summer. We had made reservations at the Ahwahnee Hotel for dinner as this holds a spot on the Monopoly National Parks Board. Other than that, I didn’t even look at a map or things to do before making this trip so I didn’t even know where we needed to go for dinner. Part of this was due to the craziness of spring with school activities coming to an end along with extracurricular activities ending and all of the end of year celebrations that go along with that. Being a horticulturalist I was also working hard in the yard as life was returning and getting things ready for the up coming summer. Part of my lack of preparation was wanting to be somewhat surprised and flexible to explore whatever caught our attention.
After arriving at our overnight lodging we headed to Yosemite National Park for a few hours of adventure. We stayed outside the park in Oakhurst as many of the areas inside the park were filled before we could make reservations and the cost was somewhat less. There was no disappointment as we headed to Mariposa Grove to get a glance at the giant sequoias. I have seen some large trees but these were almost unbelievable they can grow so large. There were a lot of people walking around which I expected but there were still areas of solitude allowing us to listen to nature around us so all was good. As night was beginning to fall it was time to leave and hopefully catch the setting sun over the mountains.
Our first full day provided us with warm temperatures and blue sky as Glacier Point was our first destination for the first glimpse of Yosemite Valley. Along the way we stopped a time or two to take in the sights. There was even a park ranger filming a video. Not sure for what, we didn’t ask but this is California. Filming is expected I think. Once arriving at Glacier Point we started to get a taste of all of the other people visiting. Parking became a little more of a challenge and there were plenty of lines for the bathrooms. Make sure you plan extra time if going during the summer for lines and finding parking.Views from here are phenomenal! All at one time you can see Half Dome and several waterfalls along with most of Yosemite Valley where people are full of activity. Bring binoculars and you can see people climbing Half Dome. They look like ants busily exploring one area or another.
As early afternoon could quickly turn into evening we decided it was time to go down into the valley and locate the location of our dinner plans. It takes about an hour to get into the valley with plenty to see along the way. You may get carsick as there are many twists and turns jolting you from one side of the vehicle towards the other as you meander down the road. Along the way there is a tunnel carved out of the mountain adding to the interest of the trip. Once out of the tunnel you are struck with an amazing and popular view of Yosemite Valley. Moving on towards the village we stopped and became mesmerized by the base of a Bridalveil Falls. Watching as the water plunges toward you and feeling the mist as the breeze directs the falls towards you was well worth a few minutes to stop. Continuing on we began to feel the presence of so many people as the only way to find parking was to wait for another vehicle to leave. With an hour or so to spare before dinner we stopped at the visitor center to look over the exhibits and took in a quick ranger program. Then it was off to the Ahwahnee for dinner.
After dinner it was time to take in a little wildlife viewing, sometimes a little closer than desired, and off to find a nice location to see the sunset and possibly take in the night sky. Off to Glacier Point once again as this is partially on the way back to our hotel and was high enough we could possibly still catch the setting sun. Along the way a Coyote decided to play chicken with the vehicle. We won. (there were no animals injured during this adventure) Unfortunately we missed the setting sun and had to settle for the evening sky and wait for the stars to appear. As the night grew darker we could see hikers as they descended from Half Dome using flashlights (In the photo below if you look hard enough you can see bright light on the left side of Half Dome towards to bottom. That is a hiker descending). Being exhausted from the day’s activities it was time to return to the hotel and catch a few hours of sleep.
The final day was filled with a 5 mile hike to explore many of the sequoias in Mariposa Grove. For many it may seem odd that we could fill a day with this short of a hike but I would like to mention we were with 5 children and the youngest was 4 years old. This is not just a straight hike, there are many stopping points along the way such as playing in the water whenever there is a stream, climbing any available rock, and playing around the trees. This does not even include the water, snack, and bathroom breaks. Are you starting to understand? Besides, it was not a race but an opportunity to explore our surroundings. I was amazed at the number of people we encountered along the way. How do you keep things as natural as possible when there are so many people beating the trails through the forest? This is the dilemma for the National Park Service. Maintaining nature while allowing as many people as want to explore it. After the hike it was off to find a ranger to sign our board and get something to eat. There is so much more I would like to do but that seems to be the case at most of the parks. Our Monopoly Travels were never meant to be full explorations, just a taste of what each park has to offer in an attempt to experience different landscapes and cultures that the United States has to offer.
The planning for this summers Monopoly National Parks board trips are in full progress. Our destinations include Yosemite National Park which includes a stop at Ahwahnee for dinner and Isle Royale National Park. These were expected to be fairly easy trips to plan because we’re meeting some friends in California and then heading to Yosemite for a few days. This is a somewhat familiar area for us as we have been there visiting various friends and relatives so we have a good idea of what we need to do and where to go. Isle Royale is the closest park to us on the Monopoly Board so again should be fairly easy to plan for.
As is often the case, what should be the easiest may turn out to be one of the biggest challenges. The challenges with Yosemite come in from finding a suitable place to stay. We questioned camping however that idea came a few days to late as it was a few days after campsite reservations became available. Apparently campsites fill up minutes after becoming available. Who knew? Certainly not me. A good learning experience. There’s a few options left but we probably should get it nailed down soon or there may be no more options left.
Isle Royale is one of the locations I was most excited to see since it is practically in my own back yard and yet provides a very different atmosphere than I am use to. Since this is within a few hours drive time (~5 hours to be exact) we could take a quick trip to Northern Minnesota, hop on a boat for a couple of hours, tour the area close to one of the visitor centers, and get back on the boat for a return trip to our car and be done. Did I mention that this park requires special transportation since it is on an Island in Lake Superior? Interestingly this is the one place where Minnesota and Michigan border each other.
I have wanted to camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a number of years and have not fulfilled that desire. Camping on Isle Royale would qualify in my opinion. Unfortunately we are restricted to 40 pounds of gear each on the boat without further costs. The boat ride already is getting more expensive than I was counting on at $67 per person per way bringing a total for 4 of us to $536 just to get there. That does not include a fuel surcharge, parking, and park fees. In order to camp on the island we are going to need full camping and hiking gear including a tent, backpacks, food, water, cooking supplies, etc.…
I don’t’ think my 10 person tent is going to work very well on this trip. It could very well weigh 40 pounds all by itself. When the realization of what we are up against hit me it was very daunting and exciting. Never camping while hiking before makes me a little nervous. Now add that I’m going to be going with my wife and two younger children really added to this nervousness. I’ve been spending countless hours researching Isle Royale and what is needed in order to make this a great experience for all. My nerves have been settling after reading and looking at necessary equipment. The excitement is returning for mid-August when this trip is planned for. Fortunately I started planning for this early enough to locate what we need and practice a little before we go. Now the big question is – can I carry 40 pounds of gear while hiking for several days? Also, can we fit everything we need into the packs for me, Karen, and the kids? Okay, so there are more than just one question at this time. In addition, we are hoping to include Voyageurs National Park for a few days. This also presents challenges since much of this park requires a boat. Still much to learn and prepare for.